Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of “Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families.” She writes “Opening Credits,” a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for CreditCards.com.
Dear Opening Credits,
I have zero contact with my parents due to abuse. They’re entangled with some bad people, and it wouldn’t be safe for me to resume contact with them. I don’t have proof, names, dates, etc., so police have been unable to help me with this problem, but that’s another matter.
Anyway, I recently looked at Experian to find out my credit report and score for apartment-hunting. On my list of accounts, there’s one that was supposedly taken out when I was 15. Whoever took it out (probably my parents) has been paying it every month, so nothing bad has happened yet, but I still don’t like there being debt in my name that I can’t control at all.
Today, I just found out that whoever took out the debt just added an additional $6,000 balance to the account, and that lowered my credit score by two points. I hate letting my credit score be in the hands of whoever has that account open (again, probably my parents).
How do I resolve this? More importantly, is there any way to resolve it without directly involving my parents? They won’t help me, and I know contacting them could be unsafe for me. – Anonymous
I’m so sorry this has happened to you. However, you can rectify this issue and get your credit report in good apartment-hunting shape. The Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantees you the right to dispute any inaccurate information that appears on your consumer credit reports. Because you did not apply for or use that account, it is fraudulent and must be removed.
To dispute online, just log in to any of the credit reporting agencies websites – TransUnion, Equifax or Experian. Once there, you’ll enter the information that proves you are not responsible for the account in question. You may also conduct the dispute process in a letter. Doing it online is quick, but you have to agree to arbitration, which is a nonjudicial method of settling a legal matter. In the event the credit reporting agency does not remove the item, you can’t present your case to a jury or take part in a class-action lawsuit against the credit reporting agency. If you want to maintain those rights, which I think you should, mail your dispute in to the addresses supplied by the credit bureau. You only have to mail your dispute to one of the credit bureaus, as they are required to notify the other two.
Once the credit reporting agency receives your dispute, it will have about a month to investigate. Since the credit card was opened when you were clearly still a minor, you were not legally able to sign for the account. Therefore, the odds are strongly in your favor that everything will go your way. Assuming it does, evidence of the account should be purged from your record, and it will no longer be factored into your credit scores.
It sounds as though the person who has been charging with the card was paying the bills on time, and that could have helped your scores (or at least not hurt them), but the sudden high balance did pull your numbers down. After the account is removed from your files, that big debt will be gone and your scores will recalibrate. At that stage, a landlord or any other business that checks your credit history and rating will judge you based only on true information.
That’s not all that you should do, though. Here are the remaining steps to take:
1. File a police report. Identity theft is a crime. Call your local police station and let them know what happened and that you want to file a report. Some departments will tell you it’s not necessary, and if so, tell them you need it to proceed with protecting yourself from future fraud. You can name your parents as suspects, which will give detectives something to work with, but it’s not required. As you’re worried about your safety, you may decide against identifying them.
2. Complete an Identity Theft Report on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
3. Add an extended fraud alert to all three of your files. With it in place, anyone who checks your credit history will have to verify that you are the real you and not some impostor. It lasts for seven years, and you’ll receive two free reports within the year so you can check to make sure no new accounts have been opened in your name. Contact the credit reporting agencies to begin.
You may have heard about credit freezes, too, but because you’re looking for a place to live, I wouldn’t recommend it right now. A freeze prevents anyone from checking your credit history. After you’ve secured a home, you may want to consider the freeze, as it adds another layer of protection against identity thieves opening accounts in your name.
4. Call the credit card issuer to report the card as fraudulent. The company that has extended the credit line must be alerted so no further charging can take place and the account will be closed. You may be required to submit the police case number as proof.
As you can see, you don’t need to involve your parents, but you do need to spend some time resolving this matter. Take a day and do it, as soon as you can. I wish you the best of luck!
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